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Full text of ""The curse""

PS 3501 

■N5697 

C8 

1922 
Copy 1 



"THE CURSE 



99 



By 
Maude Annesley 



New York 

Paget Literary Agency 

1922 



"THE CURSE" 



By 
Maude Annesley 



New York 

Paget Literary Agency 

1922 



Copyright, 1922, by 
Mrs. Brown low 



©CI.A677775 

AUG -5 1922 






"THE CURSE 



M 



The sun was shining full on the face of a little man 
who came out of a porch and stood surveying his 
possessions with great complacency. Though he was 
a little man he had a very big name — Septimus War- 
rington Bennington. 

As he stood watching the gate, the postman came 
and handed him two letters. One he seized excitedly 
and tore open : 
"Dear Sir, 

"If all the new apples which you have succeeded 
in producing are as good as the specimens you 
sent us, we will give you 5/ (five shillings) each 
for them. 

"Kindly let us know how many you are pre- 
pared to send us and when. Also tell us the name 
you wish to give them. 
"Awaiting your reply, 

"Yours faithfully, 
"THE SUPERIOR FRUIT COMPANY. 

"M. A. Bentham, Secretary." 
Septimus was very pleased. He whistled a music- 
hall ditty and went into the house. Taking a key he 
opened the door of a large cupboard. In this were 
straw-covered shelves up to the ceiling. On some of 
these were apples. He mounted a pair of steps, 
counted the apples and made notes in a notebook, 
occasionally whitsling the same exceedingly cheerful 
tune. 

"I wonder how many more there are on the tree," 
he said aloud as he locked the cupboard door. 

Taking up a basket he went out of the back door, 
down a path, and opened a gate into an orchard. After 
he had shut the gate he stopped and listened. He 
thought he heard someone moving. Keeping by the 
hedge, he worked his way round and peered through 
the foliage at a very special tree, whose trunk was 
guarded by rails. He gave a loud exclamation and 
started to run. 

The cause of his excitement was an old woman 



4 "THE CURSE" 

who was stooping down and picking up apples from 
the ground, which she placed in her apron. Septimus 
was horrified. When he arrived at the tree he was 
stuttering with fury. 

"Don't you dare come in here again, or I will call 
the police," he yelled before he reached her. 

The woman looked up, her old face was gnarled and 
marked like the bark of the apple trees round her. 
She clutched her apron full of apples tightly. 

"I want some apples for my sick son," she said 
obstinately. 

"They're my apples," cried Septimus. "I have been 
years getting them to grow. They're prize apples. 
How dare you come here?" 

Her face puckered up and she looked at him with 
bright black eyes. 

"My son wants apples," she reiterated. 

"My prize apples!" he spluttered. "Here, you give 
me those apples you have taken." He made a move- 
ment towards her. 

She looked for some time as if she intended to hold 
on to her apron, while her eyes met his with a steady 
stare. Then she shrugged her shoulders, dropped its 
corners and let the apples roll all over the ground. 

Septimus almost screamed. 

"They'll be bruised," he cried, as he grovelled, pick- 
ing them up tenderly and putting them in his basket, 
while the woman still stared at him. 

"Let me have some," she said, with a certain amount 
of pathos. 

He sprang to his feet and pointed at a distant gate. 

"Off you go," he said, and she turned and walked 
away, followed by the enraged owner of the orchard. 

"How dare you come here," he repeated. "They're 
my apples, and what I have I hold." 

Outside the gate the woman turned and looked at 
him. 

"What you have you hold, eh?" she said in a curious, 
far-away voice. Then she lifted her arm perfectly 
straight and pointed at him. "Well, what you have 
you shall hold when you least expect it. You shall 



"THE CURSE". 5 

see! The curse of the gipsy is on you. You shall 
hold for minutes at a time !" 

She made a sign in the air, muttered a few words, 
under her breath, drew her shawl closer around her 
and went off down the path. 

"Damned impertinence !" said Septimus, proceeding 
to fasten up the gate securely. Then he went back to 
the tree, stooped down and carefully examined all the 
apples. He found two were bruised, and put them in 
his pocket. The others were perfect as far as he 
could see and he carried them to the cupboard to place 
them on the shelves. He took out the last apple to 
put at the end of the row, arranged the straw around 
it and then said, "Eh, what!" out loud. He threw 
down the empty basket and placed both hands on the 
apple, but it was stuck firmly to his right hand. He 
bent down and tried to see what was sticking. 

"Some beastly wax, I suppose, the old brute put on 
it," he muttered crossly. 

He put down a foot to back down the steps, and 
ttien came down with a crash, the steps across his 
knees. As he lay on the floor two servants came 
rushing in, a man and a woman. The man picked 
him up. "Did the steps slip, sir?" he said. 

"I suppose so," said Septimus, groaning with pain. 
"Where's the apple?" 

"Oh, dear, dear," said the servant sympathetically, 
"You must have fallen, sir, with it in your hand. Here 
it is and badly bruised, sir." 

"It had glue on it or something," said Septimus, 
"that's what made me fall." 

Biggins turned the apple over. 

"No sir, there ain't no glue on it." 

The cook examined it too, then Septimus. The 
apple, barring the bruises, was exactuly as it had come 
from the tree. Septimus looked at his hand, but there 
was no stickiness to be found. 

"Strange thing," he muttered. "I was certain there 
was something odd about it. It stuck firmly." Then 
he proceeded to tell the sympathetic Biggins and the 
cook the story of the gipsy woman. 



6 "THE CURSE" 

In the afternoon he went to call at a house about ten 
minutes walk away. He was shown into a pretty 
drawing room where a little, fluffy woman was sitting 
reading. 

"How do you do, Mrs. Seaton," he said, holding out 
his hand. 

She shook hands languidly, smiling upon him. He 
held her hand tightly and got rather red. She also 
blushed, giggled a little and tried to pull her hand 
away, but she could not do so. Suddenly she became 
agitated. "Qukk, quick," she cried. "There's my 
husband coming. You know how jealous he is." She 
tugged at her hand. Septimus tugged too, but quite 
uselessly. There was a noise outside the door and 
in came Mr. Seaton, six foot three, very broad, with 
the appearance of a prize fighter on holiday. The 
smile faded from his face as he saw the clasp of the 
hands and he glared. Septimus stammered violently. 
"It — it's the muscles of my hand gone wrong," he 
exclaimed agitatedly. 

Mr. Seaton advanced. "Drop my wife's hand, sir." 

Septimus tried harder. Mrs. Seaton was nearly 
weeping. Mr. Seaton's right hand shot out, Septimus 
fell. Mrs. Seaton fell with him. Septimus still hold- 
ing her hand. A small table laden with ornaments 
fell with them. There was a terrible commotion. Mr. 
Seaton raged. Mrs. Seaton wept. Septimus stam- 
mered out half sentences interspersed with groans. 
Suddenly the hands came apart, and Septimus put his 
up to his bruised shoulder. 

"I tell you I can't help it," he stuttered. "The same 
thing happened this morning. There is something 
wrong with my hand." 

"Wrong with your hand," roared Mr. Seaton. "Yes, 
there is something wrong with your hand. Out you 
go, sir!" 

While Mrs. Seaton got up from the floor and sat 
sobbing on the sofa, Septimus was marched to the 
hall door by an infuriated husband, who looked as if 
he would like to kick his visitor down the steps. 

Septimus walked slowly down the road to his own 
house. 



"THE CURSE" 7 

"What the devil is it?" he kept muttering. "It 
can't be anything to do with that old hag. I don't 
believe that sort of stuff." 

When he got home he called in Biggins and asked 
him if everything were prepared for the next day. 

"I want everything to be very nice, you know, 
Biggins," he said. "Mrs. Warrington is very par- 
ticular and I must keep on the right side of her." 

"Yes, sir," said Biggins. "I quite realize that, sir." 
He had been with Septimus for many years and he 
knew that his master had great expectations from the 
Aunt who was coming to stay. 

"Everything's nice, sir. I think Mrs. Warrington 
will be quite pleased." 



CHAPTER II. 



The next day Septimus' Aunt, a large lady with a 
well-preserved figure, arrived in the morning, before 
lunch, which was excellently cooked, much to the 
delight of Mrs. Warrington who was fond of her food. 
They went into the drawing room afterwards and 
Septimus was exceedingly polite, placing cushions for 
her back and giving her a little table by her side for 
coffee. 

"Are you engaged yet, Septimus," she asked, with a 
twinkle in her eyes. 

Septimus blushed. 

"No, Auntie, not yet," he said bashfully. "I'm 
going to propose as soon as I can screw up my 
courage to the sticking point, but I'm so afraid of her 
thinking that I want her money." 

"Nonsense, my dear," said his Aunt. "You're quite 
comfortable here and you know that you will have 
my money when I have gone." 

Septimus looked uncomfortable and made some in- 
coherent remarks in which the words, "Not thinking 
of that," "Should hate to have," "Quite a young 
woman" seemed inextricably mixed. 

However, Mrs. Warrington appeared to understand, 
for she purred. 



8 "THE CURSE" 

"By the way, dear," she said soon after. "I sold that 
property. Here's the letter and the cheque. I 
received them this morning." 

"Five thousand pounds," said Septimus, as he looked 
at the cheque. "Good biz, I'm so glad." 

Then he read the letter, folded it and the cheque, 
put them into the envelope and handed it to her. She 
held out her hand for it. Suddenly Septimus got very 
agitated as he felt his fingers tighten on the envelope. 

"All right, dear, Fve got it," said Mrs. Warrington. 

"Er," said Septimus, "I— er— " 

"Give it to me, Septimus," said Mrs. Warrington 
rather sharply. 

"I can't," said Septimus, vainly striving to loosen 
his hands. 

His Aunt, a somewhat hot-tempered woman, rose in 
her wrath. 

"The cheque is not endorsed. It's no use your 
taking it," she said sharply. 

"I don't waint it," said Septimus, almost sobbing. 

Mrs. Warrington pulled. She got very angry 
indeed. 

"If you'd only listen, Auntie, for a moment. I tell 
you there's something wrong with my hand," he 
managed to get out at last. 

"Tommy rot," said Mrs. Warrington and pulled 
violently. 

"Please listen, Auntie," he implored. But Mrs. 
Warrington's rage was such that she was now beyond 
listening. 

She gave a sharp tug. The letter tore in half and 
she subsided very heavily and very ungracefully on 
the floor with Septimus on top of her. She rose as 
elegantly as she could under the circumstances, 
marched to the bell and rang it. 

Biggins came in. She turned to him, totally un- 
conscious that her toupee was very much on one side, 
and said in a voice spluttering with fury : "Tell my 
maid to pack. Order by motor round. I am leaving 
here by the next train." 

Septimus fell on his knees and tried to clutch his 



"THE CURSE" 9 

Aunt's dress, which she swept out of his way. He 
implored her to stay, his pleadings being mixed with 
incoherent remarks, which included "Jealous hus- 
bands, " "Apples," "Gipsy women" and various other 
objects, which only confirmed Mrs. Warrington in her 
idea that her nephew drank. She did not vouchsafe 
one word of response, but sailed from the room. 
Septimus covered his face and groaned. Then he 
looked up at the ceiling and muttered, "WHAT YOU 
HAVE YOU SHALL HOLD WHEN YOU LEAST 
EXPECT IT. YOU SHALL SEE! THE CURSE 
OF THE GIPSY IS ON YOU. YOU SHALL 
HOLD FOR MINUTES AT A TIME." 

"Is it possible?" he said, staring wildly at the wall. 

Soon he heard a motor at the hall door and he went 
out in the hall. His Aunt and her maid came down 
the stairs as he appeared. 

"I implore you, Auntie. It was not my fault. My 
hand goes wrong sometimes." 

She waved him off sternly, walked out to the motor 
and drove off without a single glance. 

Septimus sat on the door-step and buried his face 
in his hands. "There goes fifty thousand pounds," 
he said disconsolately, and when Biggins came out 
and muttered something, turned round and swore 
lustily and lengthily at him. 

After some minutes of absolute despondency, he 
got up slowly and went into the house, and with some 
difficulty composed a letter to his Aunt. 

Though he knew that she would not credit the idea 
of a "curse" (he did not himself really), he yet made 
up his mind to tell her the whole story from the 
beginning. After the history of Mrs. Seaton and 
her husband he remarked pathetically, "You know 
me, Auntie, too well, to think for a moment that I 
could have had any arriere pensee. I am far too 
much in love with Biddy to have the idea of any other 
woman in my mind. 

"Of course, I do not believe such absurd rubbish as 
the gipsy's words having effect on my hand ! I think 
that it is a mere coincidence that the muscles have 



10 -THE CURSE" 

gone wrong, but I am going up to town to see a 
specialist about it. 

"I wish you would believe me when I say that I 
have told you the truth in every particular. I had 
no more wish to hold your letter than I had to hold 
the apple, or Mrs. Seaton's hand." 

"There," he thought sorrowfully, "That ought to 
calm the old lady down. Tomorrow I shall go up to 
town and see Sir James Jobson." 

He did go to town the next day. His hand was 
x-rayed and thoroughly examined with no result. 
Apparently it was perfectly sound. 



CHAPTER III. 



The following morning he was shaving very care- 
fully when, to his fury, he < ut his chin. He got a roll 
of plaster, cut a little piece out of it, which he placed 
on his chin. Then he went to put the roll away, and 
he found that he ^ould not let go of it. He sat down 
on a chair and said quietly, "Now let us be calm." He 
took hold of the other side of the roll with his left 
hand and pulled. It resulted in a large piece of plaster 
tearing off, the sticky side up, and, being a patent 
plaster which he had found very efficacious, part of it 
stuck to his left hand. He tried to tear it off with his 
teeth. 

After five minutes of strenuous exertion, the result 
was Septimus, with dressing gown, hands, face and 
head covered with small pieces of plaster, looking 
somewhat like a walking advertisement of somebody's 
or other's patent warranted not to come off. He was 
ashamed to call for Biggins, so he tiptoed to the bath-* 
room and proceeded to soak off the small pieces, while 
all the time the roll of plaster was firmly grasped in 
his right hand. Just as he was hanging head down- 
wards over the bath, dipping his face in the water, the 
roll fell from his hand to the bottom of the bath and 
was irrevocably ruined. 

Septimus, a very wet and draggled person, with a 
dribble of blood from his chin, returned to his bedroom 



"THE CURSE" 11 

and stared at himself in the glass. He did not swear, 
it was beyond words. "Well," he said thoughtfully, 
"that is the end of it for today, I suppose, might have 
been worse." 

In the afternoon he called on Biddy's parents and, to 
his joy, found only the lady of his heart at home. He 
was a shy little man, but fully realizing that he would 
never have a better opportunity, he managed with 
some difficulty the asking of the great question. 

Biddy, a very pretty girl of the petite type, said 
"Yes" without any shyness at all, and Septimus heaved 
a sigh of relief and content. 

After an hour had passed he said joyfully: "Now, 
Biddy, how about the ring? Would you mind coming 
with me to choose it? I'm such an ass at that sort of 
thing." 

Biddy nodded. "I quite agree," she said, then she 
blushed. "I don't mean that you're an ass. I mean 
that it is much better for a girl to help. I simply hate 
some rings." 

"All right," said Septimus. "We will go tomorrow. 
Where shall we go? Bond Street?" 

"No," said Biddy, seriously. "We will go to Guild- 
ford. There is a very good jeweller there and Bond 
Street prices are simply absurd." 

"Couldn't we go now? asked Septimus. "There's 
plenty of time, it's only five." 

What girl could ever resist such a suggestion ! 
Today is always better than tomorrow where a ring 
is concerned ! 

"All right," she said gaily. "I will order round the 
car now and you can drive me. I shan't be two 
minutes putting on my things !" 

Twenty minutes afterwards, Septimus drove up to 
the jeweller's shop and they went in, she feeling some- 
what important, he exceedingly shy. He looked so 
embarrassed that she took pity on him and asked the 
assistant herself for the rings. Various trays were laid 
before them on the glass counter. He lost his shyness 
in the interest of the discussion. She hesitated 
between three rings, trying on each in turn, and 



12 "THE CURSE" 

holding her hand up for the light to catch it. Finally 
she decided and held her hand up for his admiration. 

"All right/' said Septimus. "I quite agree. It is 
very pretty indeed," and he took out his pocket book. 
Then he picked up another ring that was lying on the 
counter and held it up. 

"I think this one is very pretty too," he said, "but 
perhaps you have made the right choice," and he 
started to put it down. With a terrible clutch at his 
heart he realized that the putting down was an im- 
possibility. 

"Er," he said, feeling very worried. It was no good 
holding the ring on the counter, so he lifted it again. 

"But I don't want that one, dear," said Biddy. 
"Mine is here," — turning her hand about like a 
gesticulating Frenchwoman. 

The shopman suddenly looked alert. Septimus 
wiped his face with his handkerchief in his left hand. 
He thought rapidly : "This is the moment for self- 
control ; it would never do to show myself a fool 
before her." He drew himself up and swaggered 
slightly. 

"Er, I think I will take this one as well," he said as 
calmly as he could. "I think you said it was twenty- 
three pounds?" 

The shopman bowed deeply and washed his hands. 

"Yes, sir." 

Biddy cried : "But why, dear, I have chosen this 
one." 

"I like this one," he said casually, "I am going to 
give it to you as well as the other." 

Septimus could not manage to take out the notes 
separately with one hand, so he handed the wad to the 
shopman saying grandly: "Just count these will you? 
I think there are a few more than are necessary." 
Fortunately there were, and the shopman handed him 
back some which he stuffed into his poocket. 

"Shall I put it in a case, sir?" 

"No, thank you," said Septimus. "I will put it in 
my pocket," which he pretended to do, closing his 
hand over it as well as he could. 



"THE CURSE" 13 

"You are a dear," said Biddy, after they had been 
bowed out of the shop. "Do let me see it." 

"I will give it to you when we get back," whispered 
Septimus in her ear. "I want my reward for it." 

Then he was faced with the appalling impossibility 
of driving the motor whilst he held the ring in his 
hand. 

"Shall we walk a little?" he said in a lover-like way. 
"The car will be quite all right here. 

Luckily she agreed, and they turned down a quiet 
road which led towards the country. He could not 
enjoy the walk as he passed the whole twenty minutes 
in an agitated effort to loosen the ring. 

When they got home, Biddy's parents were still 
out, and he gave her the ring, not forgetting to take 
his reward. 

"It's too bad," he said sadly, "that you are going 
away just now of all times." 

"I quite agree," she said, rubbing her head against 
his shoulder/' but I won't stay one instant more than 
the week, I promise you. You will go to the station 
to see me off tomorrow, won't you darling, 11 :42?" 



CHAPTER IV. 



The next morning he cut nearly all his late roses, 
and took a bouquet down to the station with him, 
carefully holding it in his left hand. He was rewarded 
by Biddy's joy at the flowers, which he put on the 
seat beside her. 

He had got into the carriage, where they were alone, 
so was able to kiss her good-bye before he had to get 
out. He had been very careful not to touch her with 
his right hand and he slammed the door to with his 
left as the train began very slowly to move. Unfor- 
tunately she leant out and said something to him 
in a low whisper. Reaching up to hear her, he put 
his right hand on the handle of the door. Like magic 
his fingers clutched on it. He turned white with ter- 
ror as he walked quicker and quicker by the side of 
the carriage. Then he realized something desperate 
must be done. 



14 "THE CURSE" 

"The muscles of my hand have gone wrong," he 
screamed. "I cannot let go." 

He was running now and had nearly arrived at the 
slant of the platform down to the line. The girl 
leant out of the window, shrieked and waved to the 
guard. Porters came tearing along the platform. 
The station master, a very fat man, tore too. Pas- 
sengers leant out of the windows to see what all the 
noise was about. Septimus, running fast, was hurled 
down the slant of the platform. The tips of his toes 
could just touch the ballast of the permanent way, 
while his hand, stretched far overhead, was still glued 
tight to the door handle. Two porters caught him 
up, running with him and holding him. The driver, 
realizing by all the noise tha.t something was the 
matter, looked out and quickly brought the train to 
a standstill. Biddy collapsed on the roses. Septimus 
was rapidly surrounded by a gesticulating crowd of 
porters, station master, guard and driver, besides 
several of the passengers, who had descended to in- 
vestigate the matter. White and agitated, Septimus 
tried to explain. It is to be feared that his veracity 
was somewhat over-strained at the moment, as he 
gave them to understand that Sir James Johnson had 
found something radically wrong with his hand. The 
train stood there whilst various strong men tried to 
unwind his fingers from the handle, and the station 
master became hysterical over the delay. 

Finally, adopting the brilliant suggestion of one 
of the porters, the door was unhinged and Biddy re- 
moved to another carriage. 

It required Septimus' ardent, imploring looks to 
make her continue her journey at all. The proces- 
sion that wound its way back to the station was 
peculiar. The station master, fat and exhausted, 
marched ahead. After came two porters, carrying 
the door, by the side of which was Septimus, holding 
on firmly to its now useless handle. The rear was 
brought up by various plate-layers and workmen who 
happened to be in the neighborhood. They reached 
the slant of the platform. The two perspiring porters 



"THE CURSE" 15 

with the door gave little jerks at their burden as 
they mounted : Septimus, by this time very tired and 
miserable, hung slightly back, being more or less 
pulled with the door — just then his hand loosened 
suddenly and he spun backwards, indulging in an 
exceedingly ungraceful double somersault. 

When he got home he had a whisky-and-soda and 
then lay collapsed in a chair for the rest of the day. 
He finally decided to tell Biggins that his hand was 
injured and enlist his aid in a bandage of the effend- 
ing member. Thinking did not seem to help the 
matter at all. The more he thought, the more puz- 
zled, angry and despairing he became. 

CHAPTER V. 
For a few days after the train episode, matters 
went smoothly owing to the bandage which Septimus 
was very careful to keep on his hand out-of-doors. 
He had little incidents with forks and garden rollers, 
but, as these were at his own home, he did not mind. 
On the morning of the fifth day he received a letter 
from the Railway Company enclosing a bill which 
ran as follows: 

£. s. d. 

For delay of train 3. 15. 0. 

For workmen 17. 0. 

For damage to door 14. 0. 



5. 6. 0. 



Septimus bound a handkerchief round his head and 
went to his writing table. Here he drew up the fol- 

Credit. 



1 ( ) Apples at 5/ 



lowing : 

Debit. 






£. 


s. 


d. 


Aunt's Legacy . . 50,000. 

Ring 23. 

Railway Bill .... 5. 
Loss of 2 Apples. 


0. 

0. 

6. 

10. 


0. 
0. 
0. 
0. 



£50,028. 16. 0. £4. 15. 0. 



16 "THE CURSE" 

He flung himself on the sofa and groaned. In a 
short time he fell asleep and dreamed with his band- 
aged hand flung out on the cushion by the side of him. 
It was a terribly realistic dream, about a gold mesh 
bag belonging to a customer in a shop. The subse- 
quent police court proceedings and imprisonment were 
very vivid. 

A noise in the passage partially awakened him, but 
alas it was only partially. He turned over on the 
other side and went to sleep again. This time the 
dream was far worse. It entailed the murder of a 
child, whose throat he had caught in course of a game 
of "blindman's buff." It ended with the chaplain 
coming into the condemned cell to comfort his last 
moments. 

Septimus waked up crying out with horror, his 
face was streaming with perspiration, and his hands 
were shaking. He wiped his head and face with a 
handkerchief and then sat on the edge of the sofa 
staring at the ceiling. Finally he got up and walked 
up and down the room. 

"I can't go on like this," he mused. "I must find 
her." He thought for a little. Then he went to his 
writing table. 

He made several copies of an advertisement, scratch- 
ing out words and adding others. Finally he made a 
clear one, which read as follows : 

"Old lady who wanted apples for sick son last 
week is begged to apply at same house. Gentle- 
man will pay all expenses for same son and give 
all fruit needed." 
Then he wrote a letter : 
To Wilson's Press Agency : 
Dear Sirs, 

Kindly place enclosed advertisement in all 
local papers. Also have a hundred bills printed 
of same and paste about this neighborhood. I 
enclosed ten pounds. If more is required, please 
let me know. 

Yours truly, 

SEPTIMUS WARRINGTON BENNINGTON. 



"THE CURSE" 17 

After Biggins had gone with the letter he took out 
his debit and credit account and added ten pounds 
to the debit side, which made the total worse than 
ever. 

The business seemed getting worse, for that day 
he had three "Curse" incidents (as he began to call 
them) connected with a fork, a rose — the thorns of 
which pricked him very badly — and a bell push. The 
latter created a good deal of commotion in the house, 
Biggins and his wife being most indignant. 



CHAPTER VI. 



The next two days were very wet, and Septimus 
spent a good deal of his time, much to the wonder of 
Biggins, walking about his garden and orchard in a 
mackintosh and rubber boots. There was no sign of 
the gipsy and he began to wonder what he should do 
if the advertisement and the bills brought no result. 

A third day passed, fine and warm. He gave up 
two engagements as he did not dare leave his premises 
in case his advertisement might be answered in his 
absence. He began to despair. The short and rest- 
less sleeps that he had at night were disturbed by 
agitated dreams. 

On the fourth day, after his breakfast he walked into 
the orchard and sat down on a small bench. He could 
think of nothing else but the possibility of a future 
overshadowed by the Curse, and he became gloomier 
and gloomier as he thought of the possibilities. 

When he had been sitting there for about half an 
hour, he heard a sound in the hedge behind him. He 
turned languidly to see what it was, then he tore 
frantically to the small gate leading to the wood and 
wrenched it open. The old gipsy woman was coming 
along the little path by the hedge. He ran to meet 
her, stammering in his excitement. She seemed to 
take no notice of him, and he fell on his knees at her 
feet, to the great detriment of his trousers, and lifted 
up his hands imploringly. 

"I pray you to take off the Curse," he cried. "You 



18 "THE CURSE" 

can take what you want. Here is money. " He fever- 
ishly tore open his pocket book and pulled out notes. 
She shook her head and waved it away. 

The perspiration came out in beads on his face and 
head. "Was she going to be adamant?" he wondered. 

He got up and touched her arm. "Won't you do 
anything ?" he almost sobbed. She walked on to the 
gate and stood there looking dreamily into the orchard. 

"You saw the bills?" he asked tremblingly. She 
nodded, still looking at the apple trees. 

"Well, then," he said. "May I do what I said? I 
will pay for the doctor. You can have what you 
want." 

Then she turned her face and looked at him. He 
was too upset to notice the twinkle in her little bla k 
eyes. 

"I want apples," she said quietly. 

"Apples," he almost screamed. "You can have the 
lot if you want them. Here, come and take what you 
want." 

She walked in, straight to his special tree, and stood 
looking up at the branches. 

"Just wait a minute," he cried, and he ran down 
to the other gate, returning very shortly with a ladder. 
This he placed against the trunk of the tree and 
mounted. 

"Hold open your apron," he called. 

The woman did so. He threw the apples down into 
it, and, even in that moment of agitation, he realized 
how badly he was treating them. 

She suddenly closed her apron, holding the corners 
collected in one hand. 

"That's enough," she said, and he came down. 

He stood shaking before her, looking at her implor- 
ingly. 

They stared at each other for an appreciable time. 
Then she slowly lifted her hand and made some passes 
over him. 

"You shall no longer hold what you do not wish," 
she said solemnly. Then she turned her back and 
trudged off to the gate. He ran after her. 



"THE CURSE" 19 

"Can I do anything for your boy?" he said quickly, 
but beyond shaking her head, she took no notice of him 
whatever and walked on into the wood. 

Septimus danced a breakdown in the dead leaves. 
Then he ran to the house. On the hall table there was 
a letter awaiting him in his Aunt's handwriting. He 
tore it open, feeling very anxious and worried. After 
he had read it he danced another breakdown in the 
hall and waved the letter over his head. He looked 
round, to find Biggins staring at him with his mouth 
wide open. 

"It's all right, Biggins," he cried, "Mrs. Warrington 
is coming again to stay next week." 

Biggins shut his mouth and smiled. 



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